Gaming History Riven in Two
July 24, 2018 7:53 AM   Subscribe

At first glance, the two histories related above are diametric opponents. One, on the mainstream side, tells of a heroic savior ignored; the other details an antichrist narrowly (if at all) defeated. What unites them is an inaccuracy of memory.
How the history of video games is constructed, and what differing narratives about Myst teach us about that construction.
posted by sgranade (80 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
+1 for Spelunx reference
posted by q*ben at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's like how peach Schnapps is booze for people who don't like the taste of booze - Myst is a game for people who don't play games.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:24 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


The best of the MetaWeb.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:25 AM on July 24, 2018


Medium places a limit on how many articles non-subscribers get in a month, and I'm over my limit. Can someone tl;dr this for the rest of us?
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's like how peach Schnapps is booze for people who don't like the taste of booze - Myst is a game for people who don't play games.

Hey, cool, a summary of the dismissive viewpoint that labels gamers who like Myst as not really gamers two comments in!
posted by sgranade at 8:34 AM on July 24, 2018 [73 favorites]


Playing games does not have to be about playing violent killing games, and peach schnapps are not some way to avoid alcohol that tastes like -- which is the one true alcohol here? That's just a weird misogynistic gate keeping.
posted by jeather at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2018 [19 favorites]


Where one was violent, the other was pacific.

And then of course if you actually know anything about the actual worldbuilding, I'd rather live in a world where people occasionally needed to shoot zombies or demons than a world where your entire civilization was allegedly the result of one dude's writing and if his writing was insufficiently consistent and/or he got into fights with other dudes it could and routinely did lead to your entire people being wiped out and possibly your actual world getting destroyed.

I don't have the patience for Myst's kind of puzzles but it's a very pretty game. D'ni itself was deeply disturbing, especially the idea that many worlds which had formerly been occupied but are now completely devoid of people represent a "peaceful" game.
posted by Sequence at 8:37 AM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


Myst was obviously ridiculously popular on its own, but it's odd not to note that it was routinely included in software bundles sold with new computers in the mid-to-late 90s.

Which is how I played it. And bounced off it hard without finishing, since it was very much not the kind of adventure game I liked.
The most believable version of the Myst-killed-it story is that of designer Josh Mandel, and Myst plays only a small role in it. “I think the culprits [of the adventure game’s death] were the publishers who looked at Myst’s sales numbers and decided that selling a few hundred thousand units was no longer a good enough return on investment”, he said in 2015. “Every game, they proclaimed, had to be a Myst-killer. And by the time they found out what every designer could’ve told them, that you can’t lead through imitation, they soured on the whole genre.”
There’s a lot of truth here, although I’d argue that the full story is more complicated than a single paragraph can encompass. There’s much more to say about this subject, but, for a footnote, this will have to suffice.
I hadn't seen that take on it before (or had forgotten if I had). I've always been pretty negative about Myst, since I saw it as being a huge factor in the implosion of the adventure genre back then. I'd never say it's not a game, but... it wasn't my kind of game. I might give it another chance with the re-release. I suspect I might enjoy it more now.
posted by asperity at 8:41 AM on July 24, 2018


And bounced off it hard without finishing, since it was very much not the kind of adventure game I liked.

Yup, this. I didn't have the patience required for this game when I was younger. I do want to go back and give it another try but I've been told that it's not aged so well and my tastes still might not gronk with it. Though I have enjoyed the The Room series of games on iOS which feel very similar, so maybe it would be worth going back. Hmm..
posted by Fizz at 8:44 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Myst became tied to the death of adventure games, in fact, for many years. As the 1990s wore on, the famed “LucasArts style” — failure-free, notation-free, dialogue-heavy, streamlined, linear, jokey, filmlike — became identified irrevocably with the adventure genre by game publications and an increasingly fractious audience. Yet Myst was almost the polar opposite, and its immediate influence on the field was much wider than anything Lucas managed until the 2000s. [...] This style was a LucasArts fan’s worst nightmare. As PC Gamer put it in 1997, “[N]othing good could ever come of an adventure created with Macromedia Director.”²³

it me

But seriously, I haven't ever played Myst all the way through, and this is basically why. I was, at the time, a fan of action games like Doom, but I especially liked the Lucasarts-style adventures, with charming characters and interesting dialog. Myst had, instead of that, a bunch of slow and arcane clicking puzzles that still somehow captivated many millions of people.

I remember seeing catalog listings for a freshman expository writing class in college based on Riven. And yet I don't think I know a single person who's played either game.

As the article (finally, finally) points out, this sort of nonviolent game has almost always been the most popular genre. Even now, the boys shooting each other might make a lot of noise, but how many are quietly playing Farmville and its ilk? (Lots.) The screaming (man)children might be writing the history, but lots of other people are writing the checks.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


Myst was trying to achieve, with the woefully insufficient technology of CD-ROM, what What Remains Of Edith Finch managed to capture. The "wow" factor back when it came out was mostly around the FMV video sequences, which were novel, and the fully 3D-rendered world. As a game, it was really limited and boring. Even with an Infocom text adventure the player had agency and could attempt to do things that weren't immediately obvious. The acting was also pretty bad. But! There was nothing else remotely like it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


I was on a podcast with my friend and fellow YouTuber Ragnar earlier this year where we shared our love of Myst and especially Riven!

Riven is one of the best adventure games ever made, in my opinion. Really liked this article, though I hear the author has written some bullshit in the past.
posted by Peevish at 8:54 AM on July 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


I greatly, enormously enjoyed Myst and Riven. I also enjoyed World of Warcraft, and Lords of the Realm, and Karateka, and Uninvited, and Tron, and Tetris, and X-Wing Tie Fighter, and Rampage, and Area 51, and Amber, and Command and Conquer, and Minecraft, and a hundred other games that range from puzzle games to strategy to graphic adventures to RPG and FPS.

At times, I enjoy Peach Schapps, and at times, I prefer a craft beer, or a glass of Merlot, or a glass of Laphraoig.

I reject the proposition that Myst is not a game. I also am uncomfortable with the idea that not liking Myst must be misogynistic, as the idea suggests that preferring graphic adventures is somehow feminine. (I know men who like worldbuilding and story adventures, and women who rock at FPS.)

Anyway, off to RTFA...
posted by darkstar at 8:54 AM on July 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


I don't interact with gamers much, so the article's assertion that there was (and still is ) dismissal and outright disdain for Myst's pacifistic style didn't seem believable at first, but now I see it in this thread's comments.

And it still doesn't make sense. It's not a zero sum situation where the existence of Myst-like games threatens the existence of shoot-em-ups. There's room for both and there are players who like both.

The appeal of Myst adventures (to me) is freedom from the anxiety that something or someone potentially threatening is around the next unexplored corner. The game world is empty and calming...and provides an escape from dealing with humans or human-like creations, real or virtual. There's no rage, no distrust, no fear, no questioning of motives, no uneasy alliances, and no wasted efforts. What's not to like?
posted by rocket88 at 8:57 AM on July 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


The idea that Myst represents the Mac version of an Infocom "command line" text adventure is amazing.
posted by straight at 9:02 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


which is the one true alcohol here?

Sixteen-year-old Lagavulin.

FITE ME IRL
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:02 AM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


no distrust, no fear, no questioning of motives,

so, uh... *nervous chuckle* what color page did you use to end the game?
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


which is the one true alcohol here?

Sixteen-year-old Lagavulin.


Relevant.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Saying Myst isn't a game is like saying My Neighbor Totoro isn't an anime because it doesn't have giant robots.

... And yeah, I knew a guy who did exactly that.
posted by happyroach at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2018 [15 favorites]


This is very good, from the notes:

I’m riffing here on Laine Nooney’s 2013 Game Studies article, “A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter”. At a key juncture of the piece, Nooney reflects on a fan letter sent to Sierra On-Line by one Elizabeth Hood in the ’80s. Hood was 45 years old and almost apologetic about the idea of her being a game-player, and yet she couldn’t help herself: “I am addicted. There seems to be no known cure. I hope no one ever finds one. Please continue to create forever.” Nooney’s follow-up analysis generates one of the best passages of her paper:
“Hood carries an acute awareness of her ill fit within the adventure game subculture, but this conception may have been more perceptual than actual — there was no practical way for her to know who was playing these games. The world of easily accessible internet forums and communities dedicated to gaming was still years away for most users, while computer gamer magazines such as Computer Gaming World or Electronic Games were more specialized in hardcore game players, players whose primary activity was gaming, namely young males with disposable incomes and twitchy fingers. Hood did not imagine herself as a gamer, and therefore we do not remember her as one. The question of who is the subject of game history is sticky. In light of Elizabeth Hood’s love letter, we might position this question in a more reflexive way: what does it mean to remember yourself as a part of game history?”
And later, near the very end of the piece, Nooney drops a final bomb related to the odd corruption of memory in this field. “Within game history, the only people we have made historically visible are those we have organized ourselves to see, those who have made the game a certain type of culture”, she writes, “But there have been others.”
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:12 AM on July 24, 2018 [20 favorites]


It's not a zero sum situation where the existence of Myst-like games threatens the existence of shoot-em-ups. There's room for both and there are players who like both.

I've never been much for shooters, but for a few years, it really looked like there'd never be another puzzles-with-dialogue 2D adventure game, and as far as I was concerned, Myst was to blame. I didn't want violence, and I didn't want introspective atmosphere. I wanted stories with characters and dialogue, and game publishers were chasing another Myst rather than giving me that option.

But it's twenty years later, and now there are plenty of other options.
posted by asperity at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


@jeather I didn't ascribe peach Schnapps consumption to a gender (I've drunk enough of it myself), nor do I assume that all games have to be violent. Fruity drinks are easy for people who don't drink a lot, and Myst provides a easily approachable entry into gaming for people who might be put off by the likes of Call Of Dudebro 12.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:20 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Er...that should be Laphroaig.

But yes, Lagavulin and Ardbeg are both excellent, too.

One of my biggest regrets from my game development & publishing career was that I almost, almost secured publishing rights to Amber, one of the sweetest graphic adventure games I’ve ever played. Tight plotting, smooth development, beautiful graphics.

I was in discussions with the Wimmers, we were just about to ink a deal, and Bethesda beat me out for the contract. And then only sold about 20k copies, a huge tragedy for such a work of gaming art. But these things happen in the industry, and you can never tell how things will work out.

Anyway, if you appreciate graphic adventures, and ever get access to Amber, I strongly encourage it. The intervening twenty-plus years since its development will show its age, but the story and implementation are timeless.
posted by darkstar at 9:21 AM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


I really enjoyed this piece.
It's like how peach Schnapps is booze for people who don't like the taste of booze - Myst is a game for people who don't play games.
Such a bad take. I play all kinds of bro-tastic games built around shooting the Other, and probably look to you like a standard model of a "gamer". Hell, literally the reason I wanted to get online in the first place way back when was so I could play a game I'd read about in the newspaper (I still miss that game, too). And yet: Myst remains one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had. And so does Bejewelled (high score of 1,649,610 in Classic mode, y'all), so does Sword and Sworcery, and so does Dreams of Your Life. My mom logged hundreds of hours on a DOS version of Wheel of Fortune and is obsessed with digital card games, while my girlfriend in university has probably put as many hours into the Sims as I've put into Destiny. They don't think of themselves as "gamers" even though they do, actually, put nearly as much time into games as I do, and I think that's mostly about the dominant rhetoric around gaming, rather than who actually plays games and what they play, a position this article supports. There are many kinds of games and many kinds of gamers.
especially the idea that many worlds which had formerly been occupied but are now completely devoid of people represent a "peaceful" game
"Peaceful" in the sense that moving through the game world doesn't require the player to enact violence, and certainly doesn't require them to enact violence on a scale that would make H.H. Holmes jealous, as so many others do, which I think is a meaningful definition of peaceful in the context of video games.
posted by Fish Sauce at 9:26 AM on July 24, 2018 [18 favorites]


And later, near the very end of the piece, Nooney drops a final bomb related to the odd corruption of memory in this field. “Within game history, the only people we have made historically visible are those we have organized ourselves to see, those who have made the game a certain type of culture”, she writes, “But there have been others.”

Yes, that's the real takeaway from this piece, the building of evidence in support of this perspective expressed by Nooney.

The other really striking thing is all of the quotes from games mag journalists panning Myst, juxtaposed later in the article with quotes from reviews written by the exact same writers, only a few years earlier, that were overflowing with praise for it.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:28 AM on July 24, 2018 [14 favorites]


Aardbeg? If I wanted a punch in the mouth, I'd ask for a punch in the mouth. Highland Park, now...

That being said, I discovered Riven at a time in my life when I really didn't want to be around people and also had some free time and a blank journal to keep notes in, so it became an obsession. One of the few adventure games that I've played all the way through (one of the few games I've played all the way through, to be honest) But I just couldn't get into Myst, Uru, or any of the others.
posted by Mogur at 9:29 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


From TFA:

The Millers didn’t want to make a game; they didn’t even have a demographic in mind, beyond themselves and the many others who didn’t care much for games.

Now, that may be editorializing on Adkin's part, but footnote 3 indicates it is sourced from Robyn Miller's 2013 Myst retrospective. So to say Myst was for people who "don't play games" is pretty spot-on, if we take "games" to be a colloquial term for "platformers, shoot-em-ups and other action-based games" or even more generally "games for which an objective is clearly laid out at the start." Even non-violent, conflict-free games like Tetris and Wheel Of Fortune have very specific, unambiguous objectives. Also part of that definition of "game" is "primarily visual in nature" which is why Zork et al are not part of the conversation.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:10 AM on July 24, 2018


I personally didn't realize that so many people hated Myst, I was so use to it being considered a critically acclaimed game. I also was under the impression that those types of games were more common back in those days, but I was really young when they were around, so I could chalk that up to being naive. I played Myst on my Mac, but I was also super into The Journeyman Project, while also playing Marathon and Command & Conquer and Sim Ant and other games.
posted by gucci mane at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Myst genre didn't really die so much as get subsumed into other games.

Wandering around beautiful landscapes and exploring weird, beautiful, uninhabited (except for monsters) buildings and ruins is one of the most common video game styles. The combination of "What happened here?" environmental storytelling and reading journal entries (or audiologs, the modern equivalent) is in Half-Life, Deus Ex, Bioshock, Gone Home, Dark Souls, Fallout, and lots of other games.

If you have a puzzles in modern action/adventure/RPG games, they're not going to be a Lucas Arts dialogue-driven insult swordfighting, or an Infocom babelfish cascade or a Sierra combine-honey-and-cat-hair-to-make-a-moustache. Whether it's Zelda or Skyrim or Dishonored or Assassin's Creed or Tomb Raider or LEGO Star Wars you're going to be looking at the world and flipping switches, pushing blocks, opening doors, raising/lowering water levels, looking for hidden codes or color patterns. All that direct "look at the 3D world and manipulate it" stuff is descended more form Myst than any of the other puzzle/adventure game genres.
posted by straight at 10:30 AM on July 24, 2018 [34 favorites]


Two thoughts spurred by this article:

1. Jonathan Blow's The Witness was trying so hard to be a Myst-like. So, so hard. But he forgot that there is actually some kind of narrative beneath the puzzles.

2. Its discussion of the immense popularity of games that don't appeal to "gamers" got me thinking about what games I have on my phone. There's a huge, huge field to choose from, but all I keep there is Bejeweled. And when I play it, it's mostly in the "Butterflies" mode. Mostly because that's a turn-based mode, blissfully free of any need for focused attention; perfect for playing on the bus.

I never played Myst until RealMyst on the iPad. When Myst was new, I was still clinging lovingly to my Amiga, and I never went back to it once I finally gave that up...
posted by egypturnash at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


Digital Antiquarian has a pretty good set of articles on Mysts predecessors. HyperCard is front and center, which I think despite the first perrson CGI is a good pin for the nature of the game, being very hypertext/media-ish in nature.
Cracking open the Mac
The Freedom to Associate
A Slow-Motion Revolution (Includes a very Myst like "game" where you navigate an Aztec site in photos)
The Manhole (Early effort from the Myst developers)
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


Another predecessor:
Who allowed you to do this?” Joe Sparks talks Spaceship Warlock, CD-ROMs, $8000 computers, and the growth of interactive media

The pre-Myst CD-ROM game market was, um, pretty ripe for exploitation:
It turns out that, on the flipside, $100 for somebody who spent $1200 – and perhaps $7000 on a machine – $100 to get anything decent out of this expensive arrangement was a steal! So Spaceship Warlock was the first thing that verified that “Hey man, I am on the cutting edge of… something! I can do this, and no Windows machine can do that!” And so it became a big-selling thing. But we’re still very early, and unfortunately, we’re sandwiched between – even though we made like $4 million in the first few months of selling this thing – we were still sandwiched between way-early adopters, new adopters, and the max of adopters that would happen a year or two later.

On the other hand I think by the end people were using 7th Guest for coasters.
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on July 24, 2018


I loved playing The Manhole with my little brother, who if I remember correctly was only 4 or 5 at the time. I remember at first being frustrated with the lack of a narrative, but then delighted as I watched him play and he basically just led me around in this series of virtual woods and submarines. He'd just click along and say "look at this" and we had a great time.
posted by Dillionaire at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


On the other hand I think by the end people were using 7th Guest for coasters.

Nobody in the world back then had a large enough need for coasters that AOL discs couldn't fill it.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


I think Myst was the right game in the right place at the right time. At the time around and following its release, it was becoming more and more clear that a multimedia PC with a CD-ROM and powerful CPU and graphics capabilities is something that had nearly unlimited potential and appeal and therefore people were buying them and these consumers were starving for something that would demonstrate the capabilities of their new expensive toys. Myst was there, and it was inoffensive but mysterious, and it was one of those games where just about anyone who played it for just a few minutes instantly got what the game was about and its appeal, and it was unlike anything that had existed before.

I'm ambivalent about its qualities as a game; it's certainly not incompetent and it has some elements that are interesting and work very well, but the whole package is just average. There were much better adventure games before and since. And if you play it now, it just hasn't aged well at all. Even at the time, the slideshow presentation and very limited model of interaction were outdated, unnecessary technological compromises. In my personal opinion, a well crafted video game takes the hardware it's running on and pushes it to its technical limits. Myst doesn't really do that; it merely chipped out a tiny amount of the insane potential that CD-ROMs unlocked for interactive entertainment. Right place at the right time.

At the same time, I like Myst and hate to be so dismissive. The 7th Guest is a much better example of a bad game rising to undeserved acclaim during this era.
posted by zixyer at 11:43 AM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'd say as a simple and effective game with a clear design executed well it was way ahead of it's CD-ROM competition of the time, which was a mess of whatever you could get away with shovelling out to people who wanted to show off their fancy new gizmo. And by being such it reduced its competition to that coaster status.
posted by Artw at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


The idea that Myst represents the Mac version of an Infocom "command line" text adventure is amazing.

Myst and its predecessors came naturally from the structure, capabilities, and limitations of HyperCard, which was free, was shipped with Macs for many years, and in the early years was the full development environment (in later years the free version was the artificially-crippled HyperCard Player).

When those early Cyan games were being developed, messing around creating things in HyperCard was more-or-less the equivalent on a Mac of playing with Basic on an Apple II. As terminal interfaces led to the form of Infocom-style text adventures, the point-and-click, graphical, card-based structure of HyperCard led to Myst.
posted by D.C. at 12:12 PM on July 24, 2018 [9 favorites]


a well crafted video game takes the hardware it's running on and pushes it to its technical limits
You can do some interesting things with this approach, but most of the time, imo, you wind up with something very pretty and not much else. I will take a well-crafted story and/or really thoroughly-thought-out gameplay every time. If you can also push the limits at the same time, so much the better, but if your puzzles/narrative/core gameplay suck I likely won't care about your dust physics or how many players you can keep in the same environment without frame rate issues or even how good your AI is.
posted by Fish Sauce at 12:18 PM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


At the same time, I like Myst and hate to be so dismissive. The 7th Guest is a much better example of a bad game rising to undeserved acclaim during this era.

I'm just still annoyed with Stauf choosing to thwart me with soup cans.
posted by sgranade at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


The 7th Guest is a much better example of a bad game rising to undeserved acclaim during this era.

Yeah. I played the shit out of The 7th Guest, and I can't say why. It's terrible. The FMV bits are bad, the puzzles are bad and frustrating, and it wasn't particularly attractive to look at, even at the time. But it was "horror," so I ate it up, I guess.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I played the shit out of The 7th Guest, and I can't say why. It's terrible.

When I look at the games that I played in the 80s and 90s, there are some gems on there, like Secret of Mana and Loom, but the list also includes a lot of things that were objectively awful or just plain boring by today's standards. And even the "great" games... Loom is very short and a lot of it was only not obvious because I was a kid. Secret of Mana required quantities of grinding that were actually obscene. Our expectations back then collectively were pretty low.
posted by Sequence at 12:29 PM on July 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


1. Jonathan Blow's The Witness was trying so hard to be a Myst-like. So, so hard. But he forgot that there is actually some kind of narrative beneath the puzzles.

The Witness uses the trappings of Myst games and 2D puzzle games to do something different from either one. Something sublime.

And while I've played and loved every Myst game (including Uru and Obduction), I've found the narratives entirely forgettable. That's not what I play a Myst game for and The Witness is better for not trying to justify the atmospheric exploration and puzzle-solving by shoehorning in some third-rate SyFy story.
posted by straight at 12:47 PM on July 24, 2018


Even at the time, the slideshow presentation and very limited model of interaction were outdated, unnecessary technological compromises.

I have never understood this "slideshow" criticism. Every video game is a slideshow. Every video game requires you to mentally fill in the gaps between what is shown through the narrow portal of your screen and what it would be like to actually be in the environment those images represent. Most video games only allow you to interact with a very small subset of the things you can see.

My mental model of Myst Island seems as vivid and robust as my metal model of Black Mesa or the Undead Burg.
posted by straight at 1:17 PM on July 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


Non-paywall version at the wayback machine.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:35 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I agree that it’s helpful to consider how many games like Myst occurred at a confluence of technology on the hardware and software. The advent of inexpensive, high res 3D graphics programs like 3DStudio, along with rendered videos, the CDs that could hold the large image and video files, the computers that had good enough video cards to display millions of colors, the onboard RAM increases, and the Macromedia development environment that made static, 3D rendered scenes with canned videos much easier to develop using off-the-shelf solutions.

We were grappling with each of these technical issues in the preceding years, doing our best to squeeze out every bit of capacity from the hardware and software. I have vivid recollection of the whole company waiting on tenterhooks to see if a CD burn would be successful, so we could send the Gold Master for one of our titles to Denon for duplication (CD burn attempts were highly skittish and failed regularly in the mid-90s).

Another time, in a TDR meeting, we debated whether to shift to using CD for distribution at all, because although it would be cheaper to ship on one CD than on five floppies, we were concerned about how the customers would view a game that only took up six MB on a CD (leaving about 98% of the disc blank). The result if that discussion: take advantage of 3D rendering to generate VR images that could be manipulated around three axes. It filled up the rest of the CD and, coincidentally, predated QuickTime VR by about two years.

By ‘97, the Myst-like adventures were starting to glut our product submissions. I’d estimate that 80% of the prospects I generated at our E3 booth that year were Myst lookalikes, just because the technology made it so any guy in his bedroom could develop one. Most were...not great. We’d published a few good ones — not A titles, but solid Bs that got good shelf space and buzz — but our Sales and Marketing folks (one a relative and the other a close friend of our company President) were tired of them and weren’t able to make the case for them to buyers.

The decision was made, fundamentally, that we needed to differentiate our product line, leading to the worst business decision our President ever made (well, after hiring his dumbshit family as VP of Sales): the decision to buy out of the contract we’d already signed for a Myst-like game, with developers we’d had a fantastic relationship with on previous projects. As the senior executive responsible for software development, it was my happy task to break the news to the developers.

I was then and remain today convinced that there was a profitable niche for good adventure games in the Myst genre. This experience, along with a few others, led me to step back from the company shortly thereafter. As I was handing over my job duties, I ha dead off one more Myst-like game I’d located and had been in talks to sign. After I left, they did publish it and it did well. But they had difficulty finding new products and filed for bankruptcy about a year and a half later. I suspect that a big part of this was because I had been the only one in senior management with any retail software development experience, or were even gamers. I also suspect that their treatment of our other developers had gotten around and poisoned the pool.

So I have strong opinions on the Myst genre, yes. Probably even stronger opinions on retail software development and publishing in general, though. Because it seems like the systemic problems in the industry at the time are at least 80% of the criticisms anyone might make about the genre.

I really do miss Amber, though.
posted by darkstar at 1:46 PM on July 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


Isn't what happened to casual games similar to what goes on with romance novels, where the press mostly ignores the genre?

I think there might also be a problem of curation, with the possibility of making a game alone in your bedroom darkstar alludes to. Like for apps or videos, you need some form of gatekeeping to avoid real duds.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:12 PM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Isn't what happened to casual games similar to what goes on with romance novels, where the press mostly ignores the genre?

Speaking as someone who grew up on casual games due to a flaw in a certain publisher's copy protection, casual games are pumped out quickly, and often to a certain degree of cheaply.

There is a lot of good stuff out there in the casual games markets, but some sorting is required because the good stuff is floating in an ocean of games with dubious-at-best production values or gameplay experiences.

Maybe it's gotten better since 10 years ago. I don't know.
posted by Quackles at 10:25 PM on July 24, 2018


What a bizarre article. If not for the blurb here, I would have concluded about a third of the way through that they had no idea what they were talking about and given up. One obvious problem with the narratives they present is the way they are constantly jumping backward and forward in time. Why quote an article from '98 to exemplify critical response to a game released in '94? I guess this is what they were going for, but it still seems weird to be so deliberately misleading.

The article is also strangely lacking an awareness of graphical adventure as a genre and first person adventure as a subgenre. They mention a few other games but never so much as suggest that this was a major publishing category.

(Also, why so few images from Myst? I counted two, neither in the section discussing the graphical achievements of the game.)

So, yeah, I was scratching my head all the way through the "two narratives" section, and by the time I got to the "none of this is true" punchline, I did not have much faith left in the author. Are these really the dominant narratives about Myst? Does the fact that I had so much trouble swallowing them not argue against that? Surely there are others who remember things the way I do; I tend to assume that my thoughts on any popular mass media thing are not particularly unique. Was I hiding under just the right rock that I knew about Myst and how it was received but avoided the collective memory rewrite?

And on a related note, is there really a lack of critical historical examination of graphical adventure games? This is a less rhetorical question than the ones above. I've been under the impression that video games generally are attracting more academic attention, and I assumed some of that would be from historians. And I have certainly seen a number of historical looks at text adventures falling at various places on the academic-to-popular scale. Have graphical adventures been overlooked? If so, someone should really get on that.
posted by eruonna at 10:26 PM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


What is it you remember differently about the way Myst was received? (I've seen some other people make similar comments and would like to hear more of what you're talking about.)
posted by straight at 10:48 PM on July 24, 2018


I think The Witness is the ludological heir to Myst, but Mr Blow is not a writer, and the game misses its potential.

Still, something special.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:15 PM on July 24, 2018


That's like saying The Witness misses its potential because the enemy AI is lacking and there are not enough different types of weapons.
posted by straight at 4:05 AM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Why quote an article from '98 to exemplify critical response to a game released in '94? I guess this is what they were going for, but it still seems weird to be so deliberately misleading.
Probably because of the bit where the writer explains how Myst grew in popularity even years after it was released (hell, I didn't even come across it until 1997 and had no idea it wasn't brand new) and that the industry was attempting to deal with it as an ongoing phenomenon rather than just as a new release, and that he was citing those reactions because in order to deal with ongoing phenomena you need to deal with ongoing reactions. I found it to be... pretty straightforward in that respect.
posted by Fish Sauce at 5:47 AM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I also am uncomfortable with the idea that not liking Myst must be misogynistic, as the idea suggests that preferring graphic adventures is somehow feminine.

I don't think anyone is arguing that not liking Myst is inherently misogynistic. What people object to is the argument that Myst is not only not a game, it's some sort of anti-game such that true gamers couldn't possibly like it, and anyone who does like it must not actually like games. This is the argument that often contains an unacknowledged or even unconscious assumption that "real" games are necessarily masculine-coded, and any game which is marketed to women, or even to a broad audience which includes a large number of women, is therefore not a real game. Sort of like how peach schnapps doesn't count as real liquor because it's marketed with feminine-coded flavors like "sweet" and "fruity", while single-malt scotch is real liquor because it's marketed with masculine-coded flavors like "smoky" and "bitter."

You can see this in action just in the last couple weeks with the whole recent foofarah over the She-Ra cartoon. Lots of the arguments against the new character design boil down to "My masculine identity requires that all of the media I identify with to be masculine coded, therefore a remake of a cartoon I watched as a child in which the female main character is insufficiently sexualized for a male audience is upsetting to me."
posted by firechicago at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Anyone saying Myst wasn't scary had a very different experience from myself and my sister puzzling through Myst as children while waiting for the unhinged book men to come through the door and kill us.
The shoe never dropped. And then we somehow managed to play through Amber: Journeys Beyond (Darkstar, is that the game you're talking about?! I think we bought it because it was on a MacAddict demo cd!)
posted by sacchan at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


Are these really the dominant narratives about Myst? Does the fact that I had so much trouble swallowing them not argue against that?

In the late '90s I ran the adventure game site for About.com. I certainly saw a lot of those views and related ones in that time frame. It's hard for me to quantify if they're the dominant ones, but they sure were prevalent, and I still see them today. I also saw folks on the adventure game side whaling on Myst and Myst-alikes for dumbing down adventure games. I caught a moderate amount of flack for liking Myst.

On the other hand, that job got me a sweet sweet early review copy of Riven.
posted by sgranade at 8:19 AM on July 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


The immersion of the Myst series reminds me of a really well made theme park — story telling in the environment, brief interactions with actors, little self contained interactive areas — I mean, Riven and Exile even have roller coasters! Here's hoping that the recent popularity of room escape experiences resurrects Disney's actual Myst island project.

I don't remember Myst being anything but loved, but I can buy in to the general idea that the two coin sides of the limited demographic writing mainstream and enthusiast press generated a largely fictional conflict by ignoring the silenced majority and hyping the enemy.
posted by lucidium at 8:21 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


And then we somehow managed to play through Amber: Journeys Beyond (Darkstar, is that the game you're talking about?! I think we bought it because it was on a MacAddict demo cd!)

Yup, that’s the one. :)

It wasn’t as large a game (either in size or scope) as Myst, but I found it to be an almost perfect exemplar of the genre—a darkly glittering jewel among the many story-based graphic adventures of the era.
posted by darkstar at 8:38 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Some games people I follow are not impressed with the article.
posted by kmz at 8:40 AM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


The author clearly has a huge hate-boner for Doom. I'm left wondering if he never played either Myst or Doom and is only trying to impose a political narrative, constructed from second and third-hand scraps of information.
posted by dodecapus at 8:54 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think my problem with Myst is that is was just flashy graphics over no real story with obstuse simplistic puzzles. Things that were surpassed already by really good games. There were much better exploratory games released prior to this: Loom, Secret of Monkey Island, et al. But Myst got all kinds of press with just pretty pictures.

To me someone who gushed over Myst was the equivalent of someone who's favorite book is Fifty Shades of Grey. Sure, you had some fun with that, but boy could you have read something a whole lot better.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:20 AM on July 25, 2018


The Buttplug Age was my favourite.
posted by lucidium at 9:49 AM on July 25, 2018


Loom was SO MUCH BETTER than Myst. Miss that game.
posted by agregoli at 10:05 AM on July 25, 2018


Loom, which I adored, was a super easy adventure game by the standards of the time.
posted by jeather at 10:16 AM on July 25, 2018


The author clearly has a huge hate-boner for Doom.

Well...

@spacetwinks
wait lmao that myst piece is by the same guy who did "old man murray is why we have misogyny in gaming"?

lmaooooooo


@spacetwinks
like Old Man Murray was not fucking woke or close to it but you gotta be some incredibly powerful kinda dense to not view it as a symptom instead of a cause

@spacetwinks
this dude: OMM is why there's sexism in these nerd gaming spaces

people posting on usenet in 1992: *really*


(We discussed that article here)

So I'd say they're fond of arguments that are a bit of a stretch, plus hate the time-to-crate guy.
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on July 25, 2018


Old Man Murray (probably my favorite gaming website of all time) didn't cause misogyny in gaming, but they made it seem smart and cool. I feel like their popularity in the games industry was one factor in why it turned such a blind eye to goobergate. Because if we unequivocally condemn edgelords making "ironic" racist, sexist, fat-shaming, ableist, homophobic jokes, and targeting specific women with that crap, doesn't that mean we'd have to condemn Old Man Murray too?

Yes. Yes we would. I definitely regret my enjoyment of the ("haha so over the top") misogynistic bile they threw at Roberta Williams. Or the vile things they said about Stevie Case.
posted by straight at 11:11 AM on July 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


It was still a mega-stretch.
posted by Artw at 11:15 AM on July 25, 2018


Loom wasn't that easy for me as a kid, but yes, it was easier than, like, Space Quest or So You Want to Be a Hero (aka Hero's Quest).
posted by agregoli at 11:42 AM on July 25, 2018


I really liked this article. I didn't think the author was down on Doom, but rather naming that Doom like games were blamed for teen shootings etc. And also naming that players of shooters often dismiss players of, say, clothes games or matching games or browser games.

I also really liked Myst!
posted by latkes at 11:43 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone is arguing that not liking Myst is inherently misogynistic. What people object to is the argument that Myst is not only not a game, it's some sort of anti-game such that true gamers couldn't possibly like it, and anyone who does like it must not actually like games. This is the argument that often contains an unacknowledged or even unconscious assumption that "real" games are necessarily masculine-coded, and any game which is marketed to women, or even to a broad audience which includes a large number of women, is therefore not a real game. Sort of like how peach schnapps doesn't count as real liquor because it's marketed with feminine-coded flavors like "sweet" and "fruity", while single-malt scotch is real liquor because it's marketed with masculine-coded flavors like "smoky" and "bitter."

The thing about this that doesn't quite seem to fit is that when I think about what sort of game Myst is I think it's a Dad Game. I mean, my dad bought Myst, along with a fucking notebook to jot down clues. The only other game I can recall him having purchased was Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer. My friend and his dad played through the whole series together. I think of adventure games as a whole as being coded slightly feminine - compared to anything with violence, you know - but Myst as being on the more guy-ly side of the genre in a way by dint of being in opposition to Roberta Williams etc. (and indeed what my friends' older sisters were playing was King's Quest).

Of course that's all without knowing the actual audience demographics - it's just a feeling.
posted by atoxyl at 12:40 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


As a person who liked/likes Myst (tho Riven's my favorite), and can still understand why it's not everyone's bag, I kinda wish we could get past this phase where our likes and dislikes over relative trivialities are used to form tribal identities.
posted by Aleyn at 12:42 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the article is really more about how stuff is overlooked and mis-remembered in gaming history. Gamers and the gaming press mostly liked Myst when it came out but there's this revisionist history that "remembers" Myst as "not a real game." And dubious narratives about how the decline of Sierra and Lucas Arts adventures was somehow caused by Myst.

I think my problem with Myst is that is was just flashy graphics over no real story with obstuse simplistic puzzles. Things that were surpassed already by really good games. There were much better exploratory games released prior to this: Loom, Secret of Monkey Island, et al. But Myst got all kinds of press with just pretty pictures.

Or maybe your fondness for the good things about Lucas Arts adventure games makes you overlook the clunky stuff. And the elegant ways Myst avoided things like robotic NPC dialog trees and the Lucas Arts version of "guess the verb" -- trying to use (or combine) every inventory item on (or with) everything else. Or how much more thematic unity Myst's groups of puzzles had than most other adventure games. Or what a difference it made for all the puzzle elements to be represented at scale in the world rather than by abstract icons representing inventory items and other things. (And how the 3d "sense of direction" was used to make puzzles that shared some similarities to finding secrets in Doom. And other puzzles that subverted your attempt to use that sense of direction.)

Myst and Lucas Arts games did different things well because they were trying to do different things.
posted by straight at 12:50 PM on July 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


I remember when our parents bought Myst for us... they got it because there was so much hype around the game! Not just sales but critical acclaim, etc...

My brother and I couldn't solve an early puzzle - related to the 3 tree huts, I believe? - and since this was the early days of GameFAQs, it didn't occur to us that we could just look up the answer to move forward in the game. Instead we let it sit for many years only having seen a fraction of the artwork.

Later, I had a high school friend who was really into the novels (remember those?) and especially, the many-worlds worldbuilding. Now, obviously, that idea is not unique to Myst... but it was pretty powerful idea for us at the time and he spread his enthusiasm and we went back and finished the game and found it really satisfying. The key is the imagination you bring into the game, since the worldbuilding is very open.

Riven I enjoyed more as a game... but I think being stuck for so long on Myst actually made it more memorable, in the end.

For example, I really enjoyed playing through another game that shipped with the computer (1997's The Neverhood) but because that game was more linear and the puzzles were more obvious, it was over in less than 4 hours and didn't leave the lasting impression that Myst did.
posted by subdee at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


@whatsubon
cool that the same old white dude is pulling the same old 'well in the 90s games and games culture were all beautiful and progressive and all our current problems are new' style of dishonest nostalgia bait and people are putting it on my feed again

@whatsubon
the fact that you didn't see the subculture's problems 30 years ago doesn't mean they weren't there, it means that you were a dude in the 90s

@whatsubon
pining for a better time when everything was apolitical, but like, wokely
posted by kafziel at 11:02 PM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm always surprised by how many people learn how to write before they learn how to read.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:17 AM on July 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm kinda baffled by all the hostility he's getting to the idea that gamer culture ever took any particular turns for the worse and insistence that it's always been exactly as sexist as it is now. It almost feels like people shutting down criticism of Trump with a bunch of "Well Obama used drones and had some shitty border policies too..."

Really? 2000s era X-Box Live was exactly as toxic as 90s Usenet gaming newsgroups? GramberGait was just business as usual?
posted by straight at 8:13 AM on July 27, 2018


That’s assuming the origins of Goobergarw haven’t been pretty extensively documented, by exactly the people who find his 90S-wonderland-til-OMM narrative false.
posted by Artw at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2018


Gaming’s toxic men, explained
posted by Artw at 8:22 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Do a YouTube search for Sorority Life, though, and you’ll be met with next to nothing. It isn’t in the history books; it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article.

Solved. #tootingmyownhorn
posted by skoosh at 3:05 AM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Not quite solved, as it turns out; it was marked for possible deletion. So, there's that.
posted by skoosh at 10:35 PM on August 2, 2018


“Goobergate” is now my favorite way to refer to that whole misogynist mess.
posted by darkstar at 4:28 AM on August 3, 2018


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